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Kia EV9 Air test drive

We liked the Kia EV9 when we tried the top-spec model but for those who don’t need as much power or four-wheel-drive the new entry version makes a lot of sense – and it’s cheaper…

Summary

The Kia EV9 is a definite consideration for those who want an EV, need to carry seven people, but don’t need all-wheel-drive.
Design
9
Comfort
9
Driving experience
6
Value for money
8
Safety
10

Summary

The Kia EV9 is a definite consideration for those who want an EV, need to carry seven people, but don’t need all-wheel-drive.

Make and model: Kia EV9 Air
Description: Entry-level version of large electric seven-seat SUV
Price range: £65,025 (plus options)

Kia says: “The spacious and striking EV9 is a rugged, sophisticated, and technologically advanced electric vehicle.”

We say: We were impressed by the top-spec EV9 even at the price and now the new Air model is a more budget-friendly solution, for those who want all the attractions of the EV9 but don’t need so much potency or off-road ability.


Introduction

In December 2023 we drove the brand-new Kia EV9, a huge all-electric SUV and pitched as the brand’s flagship model. It offered something that no electric rival at the time could – seven seats – but in the initially available version, the top specification GT-Line S, it also came with a close to £76,000 price tag, which made several people sit up and take notice.

Now Kia is launching the entry-level version of the EV9 – it’s called the Air and the major difference is performance. Instead of the twin-motor, all-wheel-drive powertrain of the GT-Line S, the Air has a single motor powering the rear wheels. As a result, it’s starting price is about £11,000 cheaper than its sibling.

What is it?

The Kia EV9 is the brand’s second bespoke electric model, after the highly-awarded EV6 (The Car Expert’s Car of the Year 2022). However, it looks almost brick-like compared to the coupé-inspired styling of its smaller sister. With seven seats in three rows, the EV9 takes on the largest SUV models offered by mostly ‘premium’ brands, such as the Audi Q7 and the Land Rover Defender and Discovery, but it offers something those don’t in the form of an electric drivetrain.

In the EV9 Air, the power comes from a single motor powering the rear wheels only, as opposed to the twin motors and all-wheel drive of the higher-spec GT-Line and GT-Line S models. With only 200hp available, the Air’s power output is almost halved compared to its sisters, though it also tips the scales significantly lighter, with nearly 150kg saved. Mind you, it’s still a 2.5-tonne vehicle…

Who is this car aimed at?

With its lower (though still substantial) price, the Kia EV9 Air brings the trailblazing seven-seat EV SUV to a wider audience. Because while large SUVs are still a popular choice for car buyers, EV options have been almost non-existent.

The Tesla Model X offered seven seats but cannot now be ordered in right-hand drive (or for less than £100K), and all other big electric SUVs from the likes of BMW and Mercedes have only five seats. So for those who have traditionally owned big Land Rovers or similar but want to go electric, the Kia is currently the only option. And if you don’t really need the off-road ability the top-spec models provide through their four-wheel propulsion and off-road driving aids, the Air is likely to appeal.

Who won’t like it?

Some out there will still believe that paying more than £60,000 for any Kia is ridiculous. They’re missing out, because Kia – the budget brand – is a memory from very long ago. Today, this company competes squarely with the biggest mainstream names and even the upmarket German brands don’t dismiss it as a rival. 

Any buyer who really wants a big SUV should at least look at the Kia – and if they consider the EV9 too big, the company has smaller EV SUV models on the way.

The message does seem to be getting, through. Kia doesn’t expect to sell too many EV9s (fewer than 4,000 a year), but the brand’s UK boss Paul Philpott told The Car Expert at the launch that the order book is pleasingly full, while at a time when the fleet market is said to be propping up the car retail industry, 40% of sales so far are to retail buyers.

First impressions

For those who have got used to the look of Kia’s initial bespoke electric model, the EV6, a first viewing of the EV9 will possibly be unnerving. This is no shrinking violet but a huge, dominant SUV with squared-off styling – it measures up at more than five metres long with a three-metre wheelbase.

While imposing, the EV9 appears purposeful rather than just brick-like. Kia’s ‘opposites attract’ styling language does seem to be able to cope with the requirements of electric models, such as what you put on the front where the radiator grille once was, rather better than do several rivals (BMW being the most obvious). 

The Kia continues to score points inside the cabin, with a roomy interior and an impression of quality. The fittings and fixtures all feel upmarket, with no nasty cheap plastics evident. 

What do you get for your money?

The Kia EV9 Air costs £8,000 less than the GT-Line model, and £12,000 less than the top-spec GT-Line S version. So apart from one fewer motor, what else do Air buyers miss out on? Well, not much of great importance.

Being two-wheel drive, the EV9 Air does not have the ‘terrain mode’ functions in the all-wheel-drive models to help the EV9 tackle more challenging off-road surfaces. The alloy wheels are smaller (19-inch instead of 21-inch) and you don’t get roof rails.

Inside the cabin, the Air doesn’t offer as many electric adjustments in the front seats, nor a massage function. You also miss out on a sunroof and the head-up display, while the sound system is not quite so premium (though still perfectly adequate). You also can’t specify the optional six-seat layout, which is only offered with the GT-Line S.

So what does the Air include? Rather a lot actually. Equipment levels are very impressive, especially considering that Kia wants to take on ‘premium’ brands where traditionally options lists have been very long. Notably the safety spec is very extensive, which we cover in more detail below. 

Other highlights include three-zone climate control, powered and heated seats in both the first and second rows, a ‘smart’ powered tailgate, wireless phone charging and a ‘vehicle to load’ system which allows the powering of external equipment, such as camping stoves and lights, from the car’s battery.

Also easily forgotten but a significant factor is that every Kia comes with one of the longest warranties in the market, at seven years or 100,000 miles. This also transfers with the car when it’s sold on.

We like: Extensive equipment list, full safety spec and long warranty
We don’t like: Items such as roof rails not available as options

What’s the Kia EV9 Air like inside?

The EV9 is a big car, but still very easy to get into for this quite short reviewer. Once inside, it doesn’t take long to get comfortable up front – the steering wheel adjustment is manual rather than electric as on the upper models, but this makes it quicker to set to one’s preference.

Dominating the top of the dash is what looks like one very long screen, but is actually two. The right screen forming the driver’s essential instruments and the left provides a very wide infotainment screen. As is becoming the norm in new cars, a lot of the car’s functions are controlled using this screen, but any initial confusion over which buttons to touch quickly becomes second nature. It works particularly well with apps such as Google Maps through the wireless smartphone connection.        

The main impression of this car’s interior is of roominess – the flat platform of the electric powertrain serves up plenty of opportunity for versatile space-filling – and quality surroundings. There’s nothing to suggest this is an entry-level model from the standard of fit and finish. A typical example of the neat touches is the way that some controls are incorporated into the trim and activated by a finger on a graphic, rather than pressing a switch. 

Kia is also highlighting the sustainability of the materials used in the car, many of the surfaces created from recycled drinks bottles and other plastic, polyurethane, fishing nets and various renewable materials.

Very few seven-seaters offer true adult-sized space in the third row but the EV9 does better than most, while access to said third row is easy with a simple button-press tilting the second-row seat out of the way.  

A third row of seats does not benefit boot space either but again the EV9 outscores rivals. Its 333 litres is a lot more than you get in a Land Rover Discovery, while all EV9s also come with a ‘frunk’, an extra cavity under the bonnet. Because there’s no second electric motor sharing this space, the Air’s frunk is almost twice the size of the AWD models, offering another 90 litres to fill. 

We like: Quality interior, lots of room even in third row
We don’t like: Audible warnings don’t stay off when turned off 

What’s the Kia EV9 Air like to drive?

The Kia EV9 is a very big car but one that is surprisingly easy to drive, basically because the driver doesn’t have to do a lot. Press the start button and select Drive on a short little stalk at the lower right of the steering wheel, and off it glides.

A Kia EV9 with around half the power of the first version launched might sound concerning to buyers, but they needn’t worry. The EV9 GT Line-S can do 0-60mph in about five seconds, which is potent to a level that most buyers of a big SUV just don’t need. While it takes the EV9 Air nearly ten seconds to reach 60mph, the impression given is more smooth and unhurried than slow.

On the road, the EV9 doesn’t feel as big behind the wheel as it does viewing the car from outside. It’s an easy car to drive and place, with plenty of help available too – this reviewer still finds particularly likeable the feature on Kias and Hyundais that turns one of the instrument dials turn into a camera screen looking down the side of the car as soon as the indicator is activated in that direction.

As is typical of an EV, the Kia has two battery regen paddles mounted on the steering wheel, increasing or decreasing the amount of retardation as required, and with use of these it’s very easy to drive the car with minimal use of the brake pedal, while also returning a little energy to that big battery.

This is not a car you’d expect to excel in the handling stakes and to be honest few owners will ever properly test this aspect of the EV9. But the placing of the heavy battery low and flat on the chassis helps to ensure that even when cornering at speed this big machine stays pleasingly upright, with none of the body roll one might expect. 

Inevitably, you need to be careful on narrower lanes, and manoeuvring around supermarket car parks will also be a matter for full attention – this really is a big machine – but overall the EV9 is a car that does everything with very little fuss. Most owners are likely to be more than happy with how it drives. 

We like: Very comfortable ride and confident, upright stance in corners
We don’t like: It is very big and will be defeated by ever-shrinking town centre parking spaces

How safe is the Kia EV9 Air?

Kia does not differentiate between wallet size when it comes to safety – the entry-level version of the Kia EV9 comes with the same extensive suite of active safety technology offered on the top-spec cars. This includes front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree around-view monitor, particularly useful for parking such a big machine.

Some of the aids can be turned off using the central touchscreen, particularly the lane departure warning and speed limit functions, but unlike some cars they don’t stay off permanently – next time you start the car you’ll need to deactivate them again. “Turning off the bongs” became a ritual performed at the start of each launch test drive.

While this may be irritating, the reason is obvious – the EV9 secured a top five-star Euro NCAP safety rating when tested last year, with good scores in all areas from accident prevention to occupant protection and efforts to avoid injuries to pedestrians and cyclists.

Kia EV9 Air economy, battery range and charging

The EV9 Air uses the same under-floor mounted and enormous 100kWh battery as its more expensive siblings, but as it only has one instead of two electric motors to power it offers around 35 miles more range between charges. 

The official battery range, according to the UK/EU government tests, is 349 miles. In real-world driving, you should still expect to get well over 300 miles except in the coldest conditions. This is more than enough for the vast majority of customers’ needs, despite the fact that diesel SUVs can go further between fuel stops.

Kia doesn’t differentiate between models on charging either – even the Air can use 800V 350kW charging which will boost the battery from 10% to 80% in less than half an hour. Such public chargers are not yet common however, and they are expensive to use. On the much more prolific 50kW chargers, you will need around 90 minutes for the same charge.

For charging at home, a typical 7kW wallbox will take the battery from 10% to full in nine hours – use a three-pin plug and you are looking at more than 40 hours… 

Verdict

The Kia EV9 impressed many when it launched just a few months ago and now the Air model adds a significant extra appeal. As the entry point to the range, it makes the EV9 a consideration for those with less money to spend on a big electric SUV.

At the same time those choosing the Air won’t have an impression of missing out – most of the cost saving comes from powering only two wheels instead of four which will suit most owners anyway, and much of the equipment, particularly the safety specification, is standard across the range.

We have no doubt that the big hitters from Germany will get round to making their own seven-seat electric SUVs but buyers don’t need to wait, because there is a very effective one available already in the Kia EV9.  

Similar cars

If you’re looking at the Kia EV9, you might also be interested in these alternatives

BMW iX | Hyundai Ioniq 7 | Land Rover Defender | Land Rover Discovery | Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV | Range Rover plug-in hybrid | Tesla Model X | Volkswagen ID. Buzz | Volvo EX90

Key specifications

Model tested: Kia EV9 Air
Price as tested: £65,025
Engine: Single electric motor, rear-wheel drive
Gearbox: Single speed automatic

Power: 200 hp
Torque:
350 Nm
Top speed: 114 mph
0-62 mph: 9.4 seconds

CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Electric range: 349 miles
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (Dec 2023)
TCE Expert Rating: 77% (as of March 2024)

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.
The Kia EV9 is a definite consideration for those who want an EV, need to carry seven people, but don’t need all-wheel-drive.Kia EV9 Air test drive